From the origins of the city to the fall of the Roman Empire

The foundation of the city is lost in the mists of numerous legends of which there are traces going back to the classical era. These legends were elaborated upon and notably took shape in the late part of the Renaissance period under the rule of Cosimo the First (1537-1574).

Map of the city by Pietro da Cortona (1597-1669)

Despite opposition, he set up a plan to achieve the following goals:

  • in regards to the Florentine ruling class: to enhance the image of the Tuscan territory as ancient Etruria, not only for the antiquity of all its most famous cities, which dated back to the roots of civilization immediately following the Great Flood, but with the aim of obtaining for the territory and for the city the recognition of a Grand Duchy and the title of Grand Duke for Cosimo. This was granted by Pope Pius V in 1570.
  • in regards to the Cortonese ruling class: to enhance the image of the city by presenting it as the most noble and ancient among the cities of Tuscany, which had enjoyed an autonomous social structure from the time of the Etruscan lucomonia until it was transformed into the free Comune of Medieval times. Placed in the context of that time, in which the relationship with the "Signori" of Florence who had taken over Cortona was bitter, this research into the Etruscan myths and legends in particular, gave the Cortonese ruling class the opportunity to reclaim some of the city's autonomy.

The guidebook from the sixteen hundreds by Giacomo Lauro, refers to some writings by Annio Viterbese (1432-1502), who touches on many writers of antiquity. He reports that one hundred and eight years after the Flood, while navigating at the mouth of the Tiber River, Noah crossed the river Paglia and entered into the Valdichiana. He liked this place more than any other in Italy as it was a very fertile land, so he stopped and lived there for thirty years. One of his offspring named Crano arrived at one of the hills and was very pleased with the altitude, the amenities and tranquility of the air. He built the city of Cortona on this spot two hundred and seventy three years after the Flood. As it is affirmed by Stefano, a great Greek historian, Cortona was the third city in Italy to be built after the Flood, being also the metropolis of the ancient Turreni people. Noah saw that Crano had done a good job and nominated him Corito, that is King and Successor of the Realm. To be more precise, the word Curim, from which the word Corito derives, means scepter called Quirim in Latin, from which the title Quirino was given to Romolo. Crano, after taking the title of King, constructed a kingdom of towers on the top of the hill of which there are still remains in an area called Torremozza. The kingdom of Crano was called Turrenia because the city built by the descendant of Noah had high towers. This was the first name of Tuscany and the inhabitants were called Turreni. However, since they were descendants of Noah who had been spared from the waters "ab imbribus", some were called Imbri or Umbri in vernacular. Dardanus was born from the descendants of Cran. Following internal turmoil he fled to Samotracia then to Frigia and finally to Lydia, where he founded the city of Troy. From Troy descendants of Dardanus, now Greeks, returned to live in Turrenia, that is Tuscany, and they became the Etruscans. We find Ulysses and Pythagoras among the Greeks who came to Turrenia and Cortona. As it is told in ancient legends reported by the Greek writers Aristotle and Teopompo, after his return to Itaca and the massacre of the Price, Ulysses emigrated to Italy and more precisely to Etruria, the city which Teopompo called in Greek Courtenay. He located his burial place in Cortona or in its suburbs. In Etruria Ulysses was very respected and referred to as Nanas, which meant the Wanderer and his burial site was identified in "Monte Prego" near the current location of Prego. After his stay in Cortona, Pythagoras died there and was buried in a tomb which is called today "Grotto did Pit agora". According to Virgil (Envied III and IV), Enema, a descendant of Darden, fled the destroyed city of Troy to Labium, where his descendants then founded Rome. Therefore Cortona gave first origin to Troy and then to Rome.

Etruscan Coins: MAEC Museum

A part from the legends, the historical notes to be found concerning the city are numerous, but imprecise and sometimes contradictory. These references are reported by Greeks historians who wrote before Christ: Herodotus (V cent. B.C.), Hellenics (V cent. B.C.), Polybius (II cent. B.C.), Dionysius of Alicarnasso (I cent. B.C.), and by those who wrote after Christ: Ptolemy (II cent. A.D.), Stefano Bizantino ( VI cent A.D.), who at times called the city Croton, Creston or Curton and by the Latin writers of the 1st century before Christ, that are Virgil and Titus Livy who respectively called the city Corito and Cortona. Modern historiography seems to admit today that Cortona was in origin an Umbrian city, then conquered and enlarged by the Etruscans, becoming one of the most powerful lucomonie in the Etruscan confederacy, together with Perugia and Arezzo. Evidences of its strategic position would be the extensive perimeter of its walls, the tombs of its princes, all the archaeological finds of this period which symbolize a rich city flourishing in artistic and industrial activity, minting a coin which, compared to what has remained, must be considered among the most perfect of the Etruscan time. Around the year 310 B.C., the greater part of Etruscan lucomonie ( or city-states) were conquered by Rome. Cortona made an agreement with the powerful city and entered into its realm and witnessed what Polybius and Livy described as one of the most disastrous ambushes endured by the Roman army. This ambush took place in the territory of Cortona and was concluded along the banks of Lake Trasimene.

Villa Passerini, Papacello: The Battle of Lake Trasimene

In the era of the social war it was probably submitted (like Arezzo) to the repression of Silla which was yet another blow leading to the loss of its strategic importance and economy. Written accounts of the times tell us, however, that in the first and in the 2nd century A.C., Cortona, one of the thirty-eight Municipalities of the VII Region of Italy, the Roman Etruria, the administrative reform of the Empire of Augustus, had a flourishing political and administrative life. For this reason, when during the second half of the 3rd century of the Christian era the Roman Municipalities of Tuscany started to install dioceses for Christian bishops, Cortona probably became a bishopric. Due to the almost absolute lack of documentation, one should be cautious in making this assertion. However, a document from the first half of the 5th century informs us of a martyrical memorial celebration, which took place in May in the mortuary chapel for the anniversary of the martyrdom of Bishop Vincenzo. If Vincenzo was a bishop and he was buried in Cortona, one could believe that he was the bishop of Cortona and therefore that Cortona was a bishopric.